Fuller says Trek needs new classic-era characters? Try Piper and Sarda!

June 21, 2009

dreadnought01FROM JASON’S VULCAN HALF — Hey Bryan Fuller, I’ve got a pitch for a fresh Star Trek television show that could potentially be set in the J.J. Abrams movie universe.

Why don’t you try using Piper and Sarda, the Starfleet Academy cadets who took center stage in Diane Carey’s Dreadnought! and Battlestations! novels?

Fuller, who has some free time now that his Pushing Daisies has been canned by ABC, told Sci-Fi Wire a few days ago that he’d like a crack at creating a new classic-era Trek show (for CBS, which owns the rights).

“I love the aesthetics of the new movie,” he said. “I think it has to be set in that world… [and] I think we need a new ship with a new crew and an entirely new adventure that is in the timeline and the aesthetic of the movie, but it’s telling a different story.”

Carey’s cadets fit that bill perfectly.

Piper is a wannabe Kirk thrown into the middle of a conspiracy against the Federation, and Sarda is a conflicted Vulcan she has mortally offended in the past, to whom Piper turns for help in her darkest moment. The result has a tinge of romance mired in a personal enmity — a dynamic Kirk and Spock never had to struggle through.

It’s all very reminiscent of the TNG episode Below Decks, and Piper as lead has enough dimension to warrant her own space legs.

“I made her female, because if I’d made her male everyone would have said I was trying to do a young James Kirk and outshine the captain,” the author said in Voyages of Imagination, a 786-page summation of every Trek novel through 2006.

“In fact, James Kirk remained the hero of Dreadnought!, which was very important. He was one step ahead of [Piper] the whole way…. My [new] characters were young, imperfect, and clumsy, but they had heart and integrity,” Carey said.

The novel broke pretty much every Trek rule theretofore established by Pocket Books, and the editors loved it when it shot up the New York Times bestseller list. Carey followed six months later with a sequel, Battlestations!.

And then we never heard from Piper and Sarda again. That’s a shame, because the original series Star Trek universe has needed new life — new characters and perspectives — for a long time.

dreadnought02Carey’s imagination also gives us new technology that (to my knowledge) never again manifested in the Trek-iverse, but which would give a new and dangerous spin to the Abrams one. There are the Tycho class interceptor and the Arco class attack sled, which are X-Wing-ish fighter shuttles.

There’s also the titular war machine, officially Christened the Star Empire, which boasts a strange, phaser-resistant hull, unimaginable weaponry, and a holographic projection system that can fool scanners into “seeing” dozens of realistic copies of the ship.

The top-secret battlecruiser is stolen — seemingly by terrorists with connections to Piper — but the cadets (and Kirk) eventually find evidence that nothing is quite as it seems, and the real enemies could be posing as allies….

Dreadnought! would make a good two-hour pilot.

Disclaimer: Trek novels tend to settle into the young adult subcategory of science fiction a little too easily. I wish they had more substance, a grittiness more in line with, say, Battlestar Galactica than The Phantom Menace. Dreadnought! is the only Trek book I still own; that’s a testament to its ingenuity. And my reluctant nerdiness.

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The flashy new Star Trek was worth exactly $32.75

May 9, 2009

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***HEREIN BE SPOILERS***

FROM JASON’S COMMUNICATOR — The leaks all said there would be time travel in J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek film. I should have been smart enough to bring a pad of paper to diagram for my wife the black hole-induced plot.

“How can there be two Spocks?” she whispered a good two thirds into the film. I arched a single eyebrow and tried to get her to remember the basic mechanics of Back to the Future II.

That was a mistake. Her eyes went glassy. She is not a science fiction buff. She hates all things Trek, but was classy enough to tag along with me this time and indulge my spaceships and green aliens fetish.

Oh well. At least the pretty cast, a brief sex scene featuring the aforementioned Orion sexpot, and a certain hunky captain were enough to keep my lady’s eyes on the screen. “Who is that guy? The main guy?” the wife asked at one point. “Chris Pine? I’ll bet he’s got a big pine… in his pants,” she snickered. But I  noticed she was watching more than just James T. Kirk. Try as she might to hide it, and this is important, she was actually watching the film.

That’s all I could ask for — enough gloss to keep a noob interested while my inner geek whooped and jumped up and down like a first-grader at recess. And Abrams delivered, making the most accessible Trek flick of the franchise (rivaled only, in my opinion, by First Contact).

That’s great, because I certainly paid for it. We shelled out $19 to get the digital version, which looked and sounded magnificent, and then another $13.75 for two boxes of candy and a single frozen Coke.

In exchange for that huge hunk o’ cash, I got a Red Shirt death, the return of Leonard Nimoy, and an introduction to characters that didn’t devolve into Starfleet High School: 90210 Edition.

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There was also a surprising amount of Star Wars tossed into the mix — and I mean the good ol’ A New Hope, not the George Lucas-needs-a-new-yacht variety. My spidey sense went off when an impressionable Kirk zoomed across the Iowa farmscape on his motorcycle looking an awful lot like Luke Skywalker putt-putting past Tatooine moisture farms in his landspeeder. But there were other subtle references packed in as well, such as brief glimpses of exotic aliens in background shots that evoked the Mos Eisley cantina scene.

Chris Pine wasn’t nearly as wet-behind-the-ears as Mark Hamill, though. He managed to put just the right amount of immaturity into Kirk’s typical smarm and meritocratic leadership. There was a smidgen of reckless self-assurance and just the right amount of sex hound (he uttered, “Hey ladies,” just about every time a warm body walked by).

He also managed to throw in a couple of sentences in William Shatner’s trademark stutter-stopping bravado during the Kobayashi Maru sequence toward the film’s start. The timing was so underplayed that it almost slipped my radar. Or sensors. Or whatever.

Pine wasn’t even the best actor of the new brood, though. Zachary Quinto oozed Spock, managing to put a surprising degree of emotion into the logical Vulcan. For that matter, 14-year-old Jacob Kogan gets huge props for playing Spock as a child without the slightest hint of Jake Lloyd blandness.

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Of the entire crew, however, I was most impressed with Karl Urban as Bones. He felt the most relaxed, and his cranky color did the most to put me in mind of the cheesy old space opera. But while his performance was flawless, there was none of the McCoy-Spock interplay, the bickering, the affection-padded insults that made their relationship so much fun in the 1960s series. I missed that, and hopefully the two planned sequels will explore that side of their friendship.

In its place, Abrams and company wrote in a surprise romance, and I very much approve of the Uhura-Spock coupling. You heard that right. Spock and Uhura making out.

The predictable model for the film would have been to allow Kirk to woo and win the at-first unwilling Nyota. But not so here. Spock gets the girl. He gets her good. And the writers chose to skip over the beginning of their fling and jump straight into the midst of a mature, nurturing relationship.

Meanwhile, Chekov and Sulu got exactly the right amount of screen time due them, which screams to me that someone who loves the old series knows how those two fit into the picture. They are the R2-D2 and C3-P0 of the franchise. But tragically ignored was Simon Pegg as Scotty, who got just about zero exposure and seemed to be needed only to get Kirk from point A to point B through some clever teleporter tricks.

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Where Trek gets really skimpy is in the villain department. Nero (Eric Bana) isn’t a particularly compelling, sympathetic, or even really substantive antagonist. He’s not a Khan. He’s no genius, or a clever tactician, or a conqueror. He’s just a mining ship captain with a broken heart, veins filled with hate, and a 129-year technological head start.

Nero”s really just there to be a Prime Mover. I guess that’s okay, because it’s not his story. I guess you could say he’s just the tattoo-faced foe who fires up the platonic Kirk-Spock love story.

Next to that, everything else is incidental. I mean, other than extinguishing Nero as a threat, nothing is truly fixed in the end.The tragedy that destroyed Romulus is not reversed through some miracle of temporal engineering, and neither is the destruction of Vulcan. Two of the holy grails of the franchise are simply obliterated, their handfuls of survivors scattered to the stars.

I actually really liked that. Billions of people died and Kirk didn’t slingshot around the sun in a Klingon Bird of Prey to gallop across time and set it right. It’s permanent collateral damage, and it set Abram’s work apart by diverging hugely from traditional Trek cannon.

I guess what I’m driving at here is that if you don’t think you like Star Trek, you should still watch this movie. It’s not The Love Boat in space anymore; neither is it barrel-chested Shatner fighting a man in a gorilla suit with the zipper showing and a fake unicorn horn planted on the forehead.

Really, I promise you, there’s very little nerd stink on this one.

If nothing else, just watch it for Zoe Saldana, who is incredibly hot:

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‘Of Gods and Men’ Act 3 release date set

May 23, 2008

FROM JASON’S INBOX — The third and final act of Star Trek: Of Gods and Men will be released Saturday, June15, at 5:01 p.m., the movie’s creators announced today.

We’ve already reviewed acts one and two — and in case you missed it, Visual Effects Producer Peter Christian took notice. He wrote:

“Believe it or not, I loved your review. It was the first one I have read that gave more praise to my FX teams hard work than praise to the actors and writers. All others reviews have been quite the opposite.

As far as your predictions are concerned (even your biggie for Act II, not all is as it seems) you are in for a very big surprise in Act III. Nice call about Garan, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. ;)

Thanks for the great review, my team loved it!”

This time around, we’ll get three new characters played by:

  • Daamen J. Krall, who did voices in the Starfleet Command III and Starfleet Academy video games.
  • Herbert Jefferson Jr., for whom I can find no Trek connection other than a one-episode stint with The Shatner on T.J. Hooker (but he was Lt. Boomer on the old incarnations of Battlestar Galactica)
  • Grace Lee Whitney, best known as Yeoman Janice Rand on Star Trek: TOS. She also played a communications officer in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

The producers are also promising cameos by:

  • Arlene Martel, who played the Vulcan T’Ping (Spock’s prospective wife) in Amok Time (TOS).
  • Jack Donner, who played Romulan Subcommander Tal in The Enterprise Incident (TOS).
  • Tania Lemani, who played the exotic dancer Kara in the did-Scotty-committ-murder mind-bender Wolf In the Fold (TOS).
  • Celeste Yarnall, who played Pavel’s red-shirt romantic interest Martha Landon in The Apple (TOS)

As for plot, we’re promised a battle between the alternate timeline rebels and Galactic Order.


Week of Cartoons – Day 3: TaleSpin (1991)

March 25, 2008

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

talespin.jpgFROM JASON’S AIRSHIP FORTRESS — Who is this Baloo of whom you speak? I thought Don Karnage was the star of the show. If we’re being honest, TaleSpin was all about the air pirates.

Plunder & Lightning is the TaleSpin origin story, telling how boy scoundrel Kit Cloudkicker defected from Karnage’s clutches, teamed up with ace pilot Baloo, and saved Cape Suzette from a rain of laser fire and looting.

The show isn’t exactly steampunk, but it’s set in a timeless 1930-ish oceanic world with anthropomorphized bears, apes, tigers, pumas, and dogs. Looking back, I can’t explain how relieved I am that TaleSpin wasn’t just a Jungle Book spin-off set in India and featuring Mowgli. What we got was far superior and reminds me less of Rudyard Kipling and more of Indiana Jones.

P&L hit the TV in 1991 as part of the Disney Afternoon and won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animation Program. I didn’t care about that; all I wanted was more kinda-noir hijinx. Boy did it ever deliver. It could have gone wrong — Baloo and Kit could have just zipped around against blue skies with zany, fluffy plots.

Instead, the animators put the Sea Duck in dog fights and swooping dives against some of the most incredible cloudscapes you’ve ever seen and actually made you afraid for the characters’ safety on a regular basis. There were also airships, robots, mad scientists, and diminutive Soviet warthogs.

The show was a bundle of pure awesome.

Baloo was an oddity: In a time when muscled action heroes like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger were cashing in, Baloo was a fat, reluctant adventurer. The pear-shaped bear wanted nothing more to laze in his hammock. He was also a bumbler; his only redeeming qualities were his loyalty to friends and his flying skills.

Kit was awesome, zipping around on his aerofoil and playing Robin to Baloo’s huggable Batman. But I always thought the name Kit Cloudkicker was suspiciously too much like Luke Skywalker. Admittedly, I’m always one to see Star Wars parallels lurking in the shadows.

There are also quite a few Star Trek links to TaleSpin. Tony Jay, the voice of Shere Khan, appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation as Campio of the planet Kostolain, who was engaged to marry Lwuxana Troi, mother of Enterprise counselor Deanna Troi.

R.J. Williams, who voiced Kit Cloudkicker in TaleSpin, was also on TNG as Ian Andrew Troi, Deanna’s father.

Legendary voice actor Frank Welker (Megatron from Transformers), who has more than 550 acting credits on IMDB, helped out in TaleSpin, too. If a cartoon aired without his help, the universe would probably explode. I hear his IMDB resume is almost dense enough to collapse and become a new star. By the way, Welker appeared in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager as a random alien in 1998.


Second part of ‘Star Trek: Of Gods and Men’ fan film released

March 16, 2008

FROM JASON’S SMIRK — Tim Russ must have been watching a lot of 24 while making Star Trek: Of Gods and Men Act II, because it’s all close-up face shots and zippy little melodramatic zooms. It also trades a steadycam for hand-held action and — surprise — a “pacifism is better than righteous violence” message.

Andrew and I laughed at the goofiness of the first installment of the fan film, which stars Trek alums like Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Garrett Wang, Russ, Gary Graham, Alan Ruck, and… Chase Masterson?

Act II is far superior to the first, but in a “this couldn’t ever even get on The Sci-Fi Channel” kind of way. The second part weighs in at 33 minutes and picks up with the destruction of Vulcan by — if you’ll remember — the Death Star an evil Mirror Universe version of Captain Harriman (Ruck). Uhura, Chekov, Tuvok, and Ragnar have to break out of the Enterprise brig before they are executed and manage to take over auxiliary control of the ship. They stumble back to the mysterious planet M-622, where the Guardian of Forever waits.

The big questions are answered, and guess what: It turns out my predictions about the plot were pure money. The psychic, Charlie (from episode 2 of the 1960s series), is in command of the Galactic Order and admits he used the Guardian of Forever to go back in time and terminate John Connor James Kirk. With Kirk gone, the entire galaxy collapses in a fit of collective despotism.

Through it all, we get nods to all the classic Trek tropes: The Vulcan mind-meld, Vulcan neck pinch, a self-destruct sequence that is halted with just one second left on the timer, a shapeshifter, and I’m sure Koenig thought he was very clever spinning McCoy’s trademark line with the Russian Reversal by muttering, “I’m a freedom fighter, not a doctor.”

The costumes are weak and the wigs are worse. The exterior shots are heavily CG (and look quite nice considering the budget) but they don’t match the 1960s interiors stolen from the original set. The dialog is forced, the delivery is mangled, and the ethical message is ham-fistedly obvious.

But I understand that despite the famous faces, this is fan fiction. Low production value should be expected.

In that light, there are several things about Of Gods and Men that I really enjoyed. Nichols is by far the best actor in the piece and her facial expressions are worth far more than her lines. The writers had the guts to kill off a main character (Tuvok — and no, I have no idea if he’s supposed to be the Tuvok since this is long before the Voyager timeline). The hand-cam close-ups I already mentioned, but there are also a few other inventive shots, including one in the brig filmed through a ceiling grate.

And the detail that sticks most prominently in my memory came at 1:57 into the film. Whenever two ships meet in Star Trek they are always flying level with each other on the same plane. But here we have a shuttlecraft sitting next to the Enterprise, which is floating on its vertical axis. The two are parked perpendicular to each other rather than parallel.

It’s a great (computer generated) shot and much more true to how things would work in space since “up” and “down” and “level” and “right-side up” mean absolutely nothing there.

NOTE: Since I was so accurate the first time around, I figure I’ll make a prediction for Act III. This one ends on a cliffhanger with Garrett Wang getting ready to execute Harriman, Uhura, and Chekov. Guess who isn’t in the shot? The shape-shifter.

Wang is the shapeshifter, if you need me to spell it out, Wendy.


British Trekkies mention Quaedam (but not by name)

January 22, 2008

FROM JASON’S FRIENDS IN ALBION — Podcasters Richard Smith and Michael Dawson briefly mentioned your favorite blag (this one, damnit) on a recent episode of Make It So, a weekly podcast about Star Trek.

The two Treksters somewhat grudgingly talked about Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, which we reviewed after Christmas. Listen to the episode here:

I can’t recommend Make It So and its sister podcasts enough. Movies You Should See was the first one that I listened to religiously, and do to this day. The gang is quite whitty — even for Europeans. :D


iPod Touch is definitely worth the price for an upgrade

January 9, 2008

iPod TouchANDREW’S PERSONAL LOG, STARDATE 0801.09–After having my previous fifth-generation iPod suffer a hard drive failure for the second time in a year, I decided it was about time to look for a replacement.

Luckily, this past holiday brought me a solution to my problem in a brand new 6GB iPod Touch (although there is also an 8GB model). The new flash memory was definitely a cause for celebration as my HD problems would soon disappear.

Upon first view, the new iPod Touch is definitely an improvement on my old white brick. The device is slim and lightweight. The back consists of the standard metal casing, which like usual scratches easily and looks unsightly if you hold it in your hand for any reasonable amount of time. However, the front has been replaced with a nice glass screen — a huge improvement over the plastic scratch-fest that Apple has used in previous generations.

The new operating system, borrowed from the illustrious iPhone, is a great platform for the new iPod. It is fast, clean, and responsive to even the largest of fingers. There were some issues, the most notable being a bug with the photos program causing it to show only a single photo when viewing a slide show. Other than that, the keyboard and controls work well, although it takes a little time to get acquainted with them. Safari is definitely missing a page up/down key, causing me to scroll with my finger extensively for larger websites.

One of the biggest features that the iPod Touch touts is it’s wireless capability. Being on a WiFi college campus 24/7, this was a huge plus in my favor, allowing me to access teh intranets anywhere on campus, including lecture. However, I am saddened that Apple decided not to include an IM client with the device, something I sorely miss. Wireless capabilities also allows one to purchase music from the iTunes store from your iPod directly. Podcasts are not included in the mobile iTunes store, a feature which is another aspect of disappointment on my part.

Other features include a simple four-function calculator, a calendar (probably my favorite), stop watch, alarm, contacts, and photo and video storage. The iPod Touch also makes use of the eponymous touch capability with a new hold function that requires you to slide your finger to unlock the iPod, a feature which is both intuitive and simple. Optional locking via a pin allows you to make sure no one else is able to use the iPod, possibly deterring would-be thieves.

PADD

Is the iPod touch a precursor to the Star Trek PADD (Personal Access Display Device)?

In all, the iPod Touch makes me feel one step closer to a dream that Jason and I share — the Star Trek lifestyle that every geek has dreamed about. It’s more than a simple music device; it is the true geek device and one that reminds me of the famous Star Trek PADD. However, I believe it stops just short of its potential. The removal of several iPhone applications makes me wonder if Apple realizes the potential of the device. For those of us not willing to pay the heavy bill that the iPhone carries, the iPod Touch makes a great gadget for all geeks to consider. However, the small storage capacity may cause users to opt for a larger HD model such as the iPod Classic.

EDIT: Apple just recently announced a January Software upgrade which includes applications such as e-mail, weather, stocks, notepad, and customizable home screen. For $20, I readily jumped on the chance to upgrade, albeit a little upset that they charged existing users for the software while future users would get it for free. I am happy that Apple realizes the potential they have in the device and hopefully we will get more features to come (hopefully unlocking the device, although it seems unlikely). The applications, especially the mail app, is a great addition and just further adds to the desirability of the device. If you have an iPod touch, the upgrade is a must.